Monday, October 11, 2010

Is Dr. Horrible Really Horrible?

As was to be expected, I have received many comments and complaints regarding my negative review of Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog. Many of the comments have been in the "how dare you" range, but some of them have been very good questions which have brought up very important issues that I did not have a chance to go into with my review. Readers have to understand that I am constrained by the format of the site that I am writing for, and as such a typical review on Movie Cynics runs between 1,000-1,300 words. Had I been as in depth as was required of me to accurately and faithfully represent each side of every argument for and against the show, the review might have run 2,000-2,500 words or more, and that just wasn't going to work. As such, I've decided to address some of the more pertinent comments here on my blog, so as to further attempt to explain myself.

kyutokai writes:

"Also, the main point (IMO) of this MOVIE (not web show. NOT. WEB. SHOW.) is to challenge and parody established cliches."

While it is your prerogative to view this show as a film, I feel that to do so is to ignore the very build and construction of the work. You see, a director does not film a movie the same way they are going to film a television show. Even if the episodes are all connected and add up to one result, they are still shot and designed to be shown in episodic format, and as such they are subject to the constraints of that format. This has a profound effect on the way that the story is told, and in the case of Dr. Horrible, it effects how quickly the story is told in each episode. Being that the show adds up to a total of only 42 minutes, a fact that I have no doubt Joss Whedon understood, it forces the filmmaker to cut information that may or may not be important and to rush the plot and the narrative as much as possible.

That is not the way that a feature length film is shot, and it is not the way in which a plot or narrative unfolds in said style of film. As such, it would be pointless to argue that Dr. Horrible is a movie, because it really is chained to its formatting much more deeply than you might understand. Part of the reason the show works as well as it does is because it is a web show, and it delivers a fairly hefty package in a very short run time. So please, stop calling it a movie. This isn't a movie. It is, always has been, and always will be a web show.

kyutokai writes:

" The lyrics are INTENTIONALLY cheesy and poorly written as a way to lampoon the cheesy lyrics found in most musicals aimed at this demographic (E.G. High School Musical)."

I've always been more attracted to the Mel Brooks school of thinking when it comes to parody. In my opinion, it isn't a parody unless it directly reflects the subject that it parodies. You can't be original with parody, it's just an unwritten rule of the form. In being original, you break away from the subject of parody and create your own monster. While that monster may very well be based on the subject you intended to parody, it ceases to be a parody the second it becomes it's own sentient creation. In other words, if this is intended to lampoon films like High School Musical, why doesn't it take place in a high school? Why isn't it a feature length film? Why isn't it focused on the supposed lives of teenagers? No, this is a musical about a guy named Billy who wants to become a respected Villain, and his internal conflicts between his desire for companionship and his desire for respect.

Planet Bierwagen writes:

"The film is NOT about “Dr. Horrible” the story is about Billy who wants desperately to BE accepted by society and The Evil League of Evil as “Dr. Horrible”. This is why the scenes in the laundromat work so well… because there he is just poor Billy, talking to Penny, the girl of his dreams."

While I disagree as to the reasons why the laundromat scenes work so well, I think you're absolutely correct about the overarching point of the show. At this point I'd again like to point out that I am constrained by the format of the website I am writing for, and as such I can't possibly tackle every single solitary idea that may strike the viewer's fancy. I write to a wide audience, both attempting to entertain and to express my opinions of a film or a TV/web show while explaining my reasons behind those opinions. Because I write to a large audience, I have to try and speak in a less formal language than I might use here or elsewhere, so of course some of my commentary is going to sound rather harsh. However, my over-all score is intended to be the sum of the excellence of the subject I am writing about subtracted of its errors.

I gave Dr. Horrible a 5/10, which in my mind's eye is "middle of the road" territory and reflects neither a negative nor a positive view of the show. Think of it as a 2.5/5 if you must, but understand that in my opinion a 5 out of 10 is still an easily watchable and enjoyable piece of entertainment. I in no way meant to infer with my score or the harshness of my words that this show is entirely without merit; that simply isn't the case. This whole situation just reminds me of my review of Disney's Prince of Persia. Due to its technical success I was compelled to give it a 4/10, but if my opinion were the only thing I had considered in that review I probably would have given it a much lower score. It's easy to make up some bullshit and declare it to be a detractor of something you loathe, but instead of doing that I decided to be fair and acknowledge those things that were handled well in the film. I feel as if I did the same for Dr. Horrible, and as such I just have to wonder why it has received such negative attention.

I guess it just comes with the territory. You never can be sure when something you write will enrage your readers or not, regardless of the steps you take to avoid such issues.

Planet Bierwagen writes:

"Don’t forget that in the story she refers to be fired “many times” which leads me to believe at one time she too was homeless – which is now the cause she’s chosen to spend her life fixing. That’s MORE character development in a few minutes than you get in some 3 hour films."

Just because some 3 hour films suck doesn't mean that the plot of Dr. Horrible is any better. While I will freely admit it is impressive to see such development handled in such a short time frame, I have to question whether or not that is necessarily a good thing. Throwing important plot devices at your viewers like a random snowball isn't exactly the most tactful of decisions to be made. This is most likely a fault of the formatting of the show, and not of the creators. With such a short time frame to work with, I can only imagine that some of the more important plot devices must be thrown in rather quickly and hastily. Being that there was no guarantee of any future beyond the one story being told in the show, the creators no doubt worked with what they had and did what they could to make it work. Sadly, I feel as if the show would have worked much better had it been split into two seasons rather than one group of short webisodes.

Coulda, Woulda, Shoulda. Doesn't change what was done. Generally the term "snowball" in a story refers to a ball of snow that rolls down a hill getting bigger and bigger, reflective of the way that one event in a story can lead to several others. However, in Dr. Horrible I have to say the snowball was picked up and thrown in the face of the viewer, having no chance to attain much of any added meaning beyond the stinging wet pile of ice that is now all over the viewer's face.

Planet Bierwagen writes:

"No slapstick? What about “Moist” y’know… Dr. H’s “moisture buddy”? The montage of Dr. Horrible getting his ass handed to him by Hammer. The “Bad Horse chorus”? And so many other sight gags: the groupie chorus, Hammer dripping with cheesiness every second he’s on the screen, the death ray, the freeze ray, the liquidized gold…"

I guess some of that is slapstick, but a lot of it I would just consider visual gags. I am referring more to slapstick in the sense of physical humor, not visual. The fact that the head villain is a horse is absolutely hilarious, and was one of my favorite things about the show. I loved that Dr. Horrible's best friend is "Moist," but how much of a part does that really play in the plot or the narrative? This was my biggest issue with the show -- none of the truly humorous and creative stuff was of any real importance to the show as a whole, except to further elucidate the main characters, often in the most meaningless of ways. I'm sorry, but I just didn't see anything particularly fantastic about Dr. Horrible, and I must stick by what I said in my review.

In my eyes, a 5/10 doesn't encourage the reader to completely ignore the show, and as it was pointed out again by Mr. Bierwagen, the show is fairly easy to get your hands on. You can either watch it for free on sites like Hulu, or Instant Watch on Netflix, or pay the ten bucks and check it out on DVD/Blu-ray. It wasn't my intention to completely deter people from checking the show out, and I believe my review entirely reflects that point of view. Both in closing and in my synopsis I suggested to readers that they should rent this before they buy it, which is not a statement of abject hatred towards the show, but rather one of at least a modicum of respect.

I can only hope that from now on readers will consider that I'm not completely lambasting Dr. Horrible or Joss Whedon in my review, and I do give it at least enough of a chance to recommend that readers check it out in one form or another. Thanks for your comments, your consideration, and your time.
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